Tuesday, January 29, 2013

{redux} cheerful weather for the wedding

Simon of Stuck In A Book suggested a readalong of Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. Below, I reprint my review, originally blogged in September 2011. 

Julia Strachey by Dora Carrington (1925; source)

A reread has not altered my opinion in any way of this book - I loved it, despite its EXTREME MISERY. If anything, rereading made me admire even more the atmosphere created by Strachey - all suffocating in colours and flowers and smells and enclosed spaces (to which I can now add a detail I missed the first time - the tortoise in the tin). 

The symbolic overload (including things like people's hands: some 'like raw meat chops', others 'wrinkled claws') is completely oppressive, filled with that 'feeling of dismal foreboding'. Elements of this book go through one like a knife: I think, for instance of the mother, Mrs Thatcham, who judges a day's beauty by how far one can see, yet is completely blind to what has happened on this, that allegedly most cheerful of days.

Julia Strachey with a feline companion (source)

A feline companion (George) with Julia Strachey

*  *  *

Julia Strachey Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (1932 [Persephone 2002])

And yet it hadn't been love, but some depressing kind of swindle after all, it seemed.
Wow, this is a miserable little book. But it is also utterly mesmerisingly wonderful, especially if, like me, you like your modernism in small jewel-like doses. The story covers a scant day in the life of Dolly Thatcham, who is to marry the Hon. Owen Bigham, a groom very much on his dignity. As the preparations for the wedding unfold, and the wedding party rub up against each other in the cramped space of the Thatcham house, silences are broken and secrets revealed. Dolly's life falls slowly and gently and irreversibly to pieces as her domineering and socially manipulative mother struggles to hold the wedding party together.
Dolly finished washing, arranged her black hair with the rust-red strips in it neatly. She dipped something that looked like a limp orange 'Captain' biscuit into a pink bowl on the dressing-table, and afterwards dabbed and smeared it all over her reproachful-looking face, leaving the skin covered over evenly with a light corn-coloured powder.
The whole toilet was carried out as a performing elephant might make its toilet sitting up in a circus ring, -- languidly, clumsily, as though her arms were made of iron.
...
Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward.
She was aware of this; but it was as if she were reading about it in a book from the circulating library, instead of herself living through it.
A couple of things really stood out for me in this book, and I assume that they can pretty much all be read symbolically if it is your bent to crawl about under the surface of this novella. The most obvious is the descriptions of the flowers in the house with their jewel-like colours and powerful, masking scents and arrangements. Colours and marks seem highly charged as well, perhaps to the point of over-kill, as in the bride's soiled white slippers and an unfortunate incident with an ink-well. [OK, she's not a virgin; we get it!] Then there are the mirrors, perhaps part of the distortions of truth which will come out as the story progresses? 

I can see that the overload of symbolism might be overwhelming for some readers, but I thought its suffocating relentlessness totally suited the evocation of the bride's sense of despair at her inability to halt disaster. And then there's all the talking, talking, talking but no one ever saying what they really mean until it is far too late. 

Persephone end-paper, 'Butterflies' by Madeleine Lawrence. 

Rating: 10/10. 

If you liked this... the only book I've read recently which can match this one for sheer misery is May Sinclair's The Life and Death of Harriett Frean. [ed. I might now add F. M. Mayor's The Third Miss Symons to this list of miserable yet unputdownable books]


10 comments:

  1. What a wonderful review, Vicki! Like you, I spotted much more about the descriptions and their effect on the second time around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Simon - and thanks for the opportunity for a spot of rereading: a great idea.

      Delete
  2. Hehehe, I am enjoying catching up with everyone else's reviews now I've posted my own. I must admit I was most curious about yours and Simon's since I knew you both enjoyed it where I didn't. I really didn't know when I picked it up that this was such a 'marmite' book but it's always good to see why someone else had the opposite reaction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder whether I would have liked it so much if it was longer - I suspect not! It's jewel-like-ness (?word) is suited to the short form.

      Delete
  3. Haven't heard of the book Vicki but it's going on my list. Will come back to the reviews afterwards. I love the cover!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really enjoyed your review, Vicki! I should reread this too. I had forgotten just how much darkness there was under the surface of the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Helen! It is dark, isn't it? despite all those lovely jewel colours and all those pretty flowers. (It is also a lovely short re-read.)

      Delete

{READ IN 2014}

  • 55.
  • 54.
  • 53. The Benevent Treasure - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 52. The Catherine-Wheel - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 51. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 50. The Key - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 49. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 48. Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 47. The Ivory Dagger - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 46. Miss Silver Intervenes - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 45. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 44. The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 43. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 42. Vanishing Point - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 41. The Chinese Shawl - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 40. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 39. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 38. The Runaways [Linnets & Valerians] - Elizabeth Goudge [Kindle]
  • 37. The Blinded Man [Misterioso]- Arne Dahl [Kindle]
  • 36. Cloak of Darkness - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 35. The Hidden Target - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 34. Sprig Muslin - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 33. The Corinthian - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 32. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 31. The Unknown Ajax - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 30. The Quiet Gentleman - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 29. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers [re-read; Kindle]
  • 28. Want to Play - P. J. Tracy [re-read; Kindle]
  • 27. The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 26. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 25. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; Kindle]
  • 24. Brewster's Millions - George Barr McCutcheon [Kindle]
  • 23. A Fair Barbarian - Frances Hodgson Burnett [Kindle]
  • 22. Gimlet: King of the Commandos - Capt. W. E. Johns [re-read]
  • 21. Out of Circulation - Miranda James [Kindle]
  • 20. Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter [Kindle]
  • 19. The Blank Wall - Elisabeth Sanxay Holding [Kindle]
  • 18. Dumps: A Plain Girl - L. T. Meade [Kindle]
  • 17. The Inconvenient Duchess - Christine Merrill [Kindle]
  • 16. Biggles Takes it Rough - Capt. W.E. Johns
  • 15. Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov [Kindle]
  • 14. The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick [Kindle]
  • 13. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell [Kindle]
  • 12. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [Kindle; re-read]
  • 11. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Kate Douglas Wiggin [Kindle]
  • 10. A Sweet Girl Graduate - L.T. Meade [Kindle]
  • 9. A College Girl - Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey [Kindle]
  • 8. The Woman Who Did - Grant Allen [Kindle]
  • 7. The Golden Child - Penelope Fitzgerald [Kindle]
  • 6. Her Father's Name - Florence Marryat [Kindle]
  • 5. They Do It With Mirrors - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 4. Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 3. Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 2. Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 1. Fer-de-Lance - Rex Stout [Kindle]

{READ IN 2013}

  • 145. The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer [re-read; Kindle]
  • 144. The Great Silence 1918-1920: Living in the Shadow of the Great War - Juliet Nicolson
  • 143. What Katy Did - Susan Coolidge [re-read; Kindle]
  • 142. The Good Soldier - Ford Madox Ford [Kindle]
  • 141. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald [Kindle]
  • 140. The Burglar & the Blizzard - Alice Duer Miller [Kindle]
  • 139a. Ruth's First Christmas Tree - Elly Griffiths [short story; Kindle]
  • 139. Hercule Poirot's Christmas - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 138. Envious Casca - Georgette Heyer [re-read?; Kindle]
  • 137. I am Half-Sick of Shadows - Alan Bradley [Kindle]
  • 136. Taken at the Flood - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 135. Never Go Back - Lee Child [Kindle]
  • 134. When William Came - Saki [Kindle]
  • 133. N or M - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 132. The Chronicles of Clovis - Saki [Kindle]
  • 131. Come Out of the Kitchen! - Alice Duer Miller [Kindle]
  • 130. The Last Werewolf - Glen Duncan [Kindle]
  • 129. The Thirteen Problems - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 128. I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes [Kindle]
  • 127. Passenger to Frankfurt - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 126. The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 125. Appointment with Death - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 124. Lord Edgware Dies - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 123. Murder in Mesopotamia - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 122. Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan
  • 121. Death in the Clouds - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 120. Destination Unknown - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 119. They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 118. Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 117. Crooked House - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 116. Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie [re-read; Kindle]
  • 115. The Bat - Mary Roberts Rinehart [Kindle]
  • 114. Touchstone - Laurie R. King [Kindle]
  • 113. Fiona on the 14th Floor - Mabel Esther Allan
  • 112. Hell! Said the Duchess - Michael Arlen [Kindle]
  • 111. Pollyanna Grows Up - Eleanor H. Porter [Kindle]
  • 110. Pollyanna - Eleanor H. Porter [re-read; Kindle]
  • 109. The Female Detective - Andrew Forrester [Kindle]
  • 108. Hit Man - Lawrence Block [Kindle]
  • 107. The Fortune of Christina M'Nab - Sarah Macnaughtan {REVIEW}
  • 106. Trains and Buttered Toast - John Betjeman
  • 105. Jim and Wally - Mary Grant Bruce
  • 104. Death of an Old Goat - Robert Barnard [Kindle]
  • 103. An Old-Fashioned Girl - Louisa M. Alcott [Kindle]
  • 102. Thornyhold - Mary Stewart [Kindle]
  • 101. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein [Kindle]